Dumpster Diving
Do's And Don'ts

How'd you like to decorate your home and fill your closets without spending any money? Sound too good to be true? Authors Kari Abate and Kyle Looby say you might just hit the jackpot if you start checking out what other people throw into the dumpsters. Here are their tips!

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Tools of the trade

Maglite flashlightWhile diving doesn't require any special equipment, beginning divers may feel more comfortable taking along a few tools of the trade:

  • Flashlight
  • Gloves
  • Baby wipes
  • Bottled water
  • Baseball cap (useful when propping dumpster lids on your head)
  • Dive stick (a long stick for shifting heavy bags of trash)
  • Grocery bags or a small shopping basket (for the goods)
  • Milk crate or portable step stool
  • Pepper spray (a good thing to carry, in general)
  • Razor blade (for opening bags quickly)
  • A small stepladder

Safety comes first

The term "dumpster diving" refers to the position most divers assume in order to retrieve items without actually getting in the dumpster: Picture yourself balanced on the edge of the dumpster, head in the dumpster and legs in the air behind you. (Novice divers may experience some initial discomfort around the abdomen and ribcage. This will pass.)


Safety should always take precedence. No bag of sheets or even the mother lode of brand-name designer shirts is worth a trip to the hospital!

Here are four more tips to help you stay safe:

  1. Avoid getting in the dumpster, if possible (some contain broken glass).
  2. Never get in the dumpster when you are alone.
  3. If you do get in, make sure you can get out.
  4. If you're petite, make sure there are boxes or bags in the dumpster that are sturdy enough to use as a makeshift stepstool.

Stepstool for dumpster divingYou may see large (often green) "dumpsters" that might be attached to a building or freestanding. If attached, they will have a chute from the building to the "dumpster." If freestanding, you'll notice lights and other mechanics. These are not dumpsters. They are compactors, the enemy of the dumpster diver. Do not get in them. Not only is it next to impossible, but it is also potentially deadly -- not to mention illegal.

So, where to?

Now, the fun part. Where do we dive? Generally speaking, any store that has a dumpster is up for grabs. Retail dumpsters include craft supply stores, party supply stores, drug stores (a great source of greeting cards, paperback books in a dumpster diveboxed chocolates, small gifts, cases of soda and toys), book stores, department stores, discount stores, pet supply stores, home décor stores, thrift stores and hardware stores.


Strip malls are the best places to find retail dumpsters -- they're usually located behind the buildings. Apartment complexes, meanwhile, are a great source of furniture, clothes, small appliances, televisions, VCRs, household items and more.

Secret treasure troves

Once you've started diving, you'll never look at a dumpster the same way again. To us, they are no longer merely trash receptacles, but rather secret treasure chests waiting to be looted. But you'll never know what you may find in your local dumpsters unless you look, so get out there and lift some lids.


After your first haul -- even if it's just a box of best-selling paperbacks (like we discovered on our first foray) -- you'll think twice about paying retail. Dumpster diving has replaced recreational shopping for us... and maybe it will for you, too!

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Comments on "The art of dumpster diving"

Lynn November 21, 2013 | 6:20 PM

Just started checking out grocery stores dumpsters, and learned when they dump, and you would not believe the food we have collected. Our refrig is stuffed. We see milk every day in the dumpsters. sometimes 10 -15 gallons of milks, half gallons, buttermilk, creamer, tons of activia yogurt, every kind of yougurt, Tropicana 100% pure orange juice, biscuits, butter, pomegranate juice, oranges, apples, mushrooms, tons of fresh still cold bags of salads, bread, birthday cakes, soup, tons of produce, and deli nuts, candies, salmon steaks, shrimp. You have to know exactly when they dump the meat. I am blown completely away at the waste. I looked in one today,and there was gallons of milk, biscuits, parkay, bread, hawaiin rolls, frozen veggies and so much stuff. It is just sitting there. If you get it still cold, it is fine. I am not exaggerating.

Dita May 22, 2013 | 7:17 PM

I have been dumpster diving since I was very young because my mom used to do it. I honestly stopped for a little while because I was working and volunteering. Now that we have moved and I am not working Im at it again and it feels awesome. I so love it. I have found endless items some I have refurbished and some I gave away to friends and sold others. ITs sad that this country has lost the value of a helping hand. Everyone is so quick to just throw things away when there's so many people in need. Well enough about that. Have fun and keep safe!!

gollypop June 20, 2012 | 12:06 PM

Me and my mother in law dumpster dives for food but on one of our recent dives the store threatened to call the police and said we were tresspassing on private property. It is sad that perfectly good food is thrown away by the tons everyday in the Usa and the stores don't want to let people who need the food get it.

Chrissie March 19, 2011 | 3:25 AM

So cool!! Dumpster diving is my favorite pasttime!! After a few months of nightly diving, something had to give! I started selling on ebay and at our local flea market to make room...for more!! LOL. I think I even have that same wicker love seat shown above...from Pier1 Imports. I don't know if your area has these stores, but Big Lots, Pier1 Imports, Family Dollar, PetSmart, and Staples/Office Depot are my favorites. Big Lots is a closeout store, so when they have returns there is no one to send it back to and it goes in the dumpster. Stuff still in the box even! Employees are not allowed to keep these items in an effort to keep them all honest, I guess. I've gotten very nice and expensive items out of Pier1 dumpster. Beautiful wrought iron chairs that had a slight bend in a leg or bar...wicker furniture with slight damage during shipping, plates with minor chip, etc. Some stores will cut up their merchandise to keep people from getting the items and returning them again...some do it just to aggravate us divers. Try your cell phone stores and service providers. You would be surprised at the chargers, phones, and batteries they throw away that are still good. I hope I haven't cut my own throat here!! LOL. ...about 2 weeks ago found nearly $2,000.00 worth of tools and tool boxes behind one store! If you don't hoard it all, it can be a fun and lucrative hobby!!! Happy Diving!!

Karen October 26, 2008 | 7:02 AM

I can't imagine that any of the stores around here are actually throwing good items away, I am really curious though now I am going to take a trip to the strip mall near me this morning and see if I find anything besides real garbage, and hopefully not rats

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